Eliot, George, 1819-1880

Alternative names
Birth 1819-11-22
Death 1880-12-22
English, English

Biographical notes:

Born Mary Ann Evans in 1819, George Eliot was the daughter of a land agent who managed estates in the rural midlands, a formative experience that gave her an insight into country society that later greatly influenced and enriched her first works of fiction. At different times of her life, she also spelled her name as Mary Anne, Marian, and Marianne, adopting the pen-name of Eliot only after her first work of fiction was published in 1857.

Eliot was brought up in a narrow religious tradition, and at school she became a convert to Evangelicalism. Charles Bray, a free thinking manufacturer, influenced her skepticism of orthodox beliefs, although she never strayed from the ethical teachings of her childhood religion. Her works contain themes of love and duty, and affectionate portraits of clergymen and dissenters. She began her literary career with translations from the German of two works of religious speculation, of which Strauss’s Life of Jesus was published in 1846 without her name.

In 1849, after the death of her father, she moved to London and quickly became involved in literary circles. In 1851 John Chapman made her the assistant editor of the Westminster Review although she had been contributing articles and reviews to the periodical for only a year. It was through Chapman’s influence that she met G. H. Lewes, who was then separated from his wife. She began living with him without a legal union in 1854, an arrangement that caused her some anxiety and strife with friends and family, but one that ultimately proved both long lasting and beneficial to her literary career. Only after meeting him did she begin writing works of fiction, and Lewes remained a strong supporter of her work until his death in 1878.

The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, one of three stories brought together in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857 under the name of George Eliot, the first work that bore this pseudonym. These stories were praised for domestic realism, pathos, and humor, and caused speculation about the identity of George Eliot, who many believed was a clergyman or a clergyman’s wife. Scenes marked the beginning as well of a long relationship with Blackwood Press, which would publish all of her works save Romola .

Begun in 1858, Adam Bede (1859) established her as a leading English novelist, praised by readers as diverse as James H. Turgenev and Queen Victoria. Following Bede were a series of novels, including The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1862-3), Felix Holt, (1866), Middlemarch (1871-2), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Until Romola, a historical novel about society in Florence, Italy, her novels had concerned country life. In 1879, a collection of her most successful Westminster Review essays, entitled The Impressions of Theophrastrus Such, was published. In 1880, she married John Walter Cross, her financial advisor and friend who was twenty years younger than she. Eliot died seven months later.

From the guide to the George Eliot Collection TXRC05-A10004., 1854-1880, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)


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